A few summers ago, I was asked by Bill Leslie to fill the pulpit at Elm LaSalle Church (in those days), now LaSalle Street Church. I remember, after the evening service, a night not unlike this one, we went outdoors. It was actually hot, in August. The folks who had come to evening service were there, and we were waiting in front for a group of students to gather so we could go down the block and get a piece of pie and have a cup of coffee.
One young man came up to me, and just a little bit antagonistically, said, "I don't want to insult you, Jay, but I come to this service mostly because it's a good place to meet girls. There are some very beautiful, young, professional women who come to this church, and so I've found this a good place to meet dates. It's a wholesome place on Sunday evening. I don't want you to feel insulted, but I don't even believe in God.
I had read this someplace, so I decided I'd try it on him. I think he thought I was going to get a nosebleed or something over his particular statement, so I said, "You don't believe in God. Tell me what God you don't believe in. Maybe I don't believe in him, either.
Then he began to tell me about a particular relative of his, I think a maiden aunt, who was sort of neurotic. Every time their family wanted to talk about ball scores, she wanted to talk about death. Every time someone was having a good time, she wanted to bring up questions of hell and so on, and so he had concluded that believing in God had something to do with his maiden aunt.
After we spent 15 or 20 minutes, over my pie, listening to him tell me these ideas he had heard about God, I said to him, "I'm very glad you took the time to challenge me, and I'm also glad I took the time to listen to you, because, in fact, if I thought God was like you've described him to be, I wouldn't believe in God, either. I would be insulted that you would think I would have trivialized my life to believe in a God that spends all his time on how long's long, how short's short, and how shiny's shinyinvolved in all sorts of minor, microethical issues that don't really matter, in the long run, at all.
A.W. Tozer said, "We tend, by a secret law of the soul, to move toward our mental image of God. Let me suggest that probably in no period in history has it been so important to think rightly about God as in this particular age.
Some of you who remember Tozer will also remember that about 1948, J. B. Phillips wrote a book titled Your God Is Too Small. I'm not sure that it's still being reprintedI don't see it on the four-foot shelf of many young people todaybut I wish I could start a revival of interest in the book. Just going down the index is of great value. Phillips talks about inadequate ideas of God. His chapter titles are these: "The Resident Policeman, "The Parental Hangover, "The Grand Old Man, "Meek-and-Mild, "Absolute Perfection, "The Heavenly Bosom, "God-in-a-Box, "The Managing Director, "Second-Hand God, "Perennial Grievance, "The Pale Galilean, "The Projected Image. I thought, How many of these chapter titles have actually become orthodoxies in media, and in this particular age!
The Psalmist looked at the sky and was amazed by God's greatness.
We turn to reading David's view of God, as we read Psalm 8, a psalm with which we're all quite familiar, and I think we've learned to sing at least a couple lines from it. David said, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise because of your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You made him ruler over the works of your hands; you put everything under his feet: all flocks and herds, and the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas. O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!
This young Galilean shepherd, looking into the expanse of the universe with his naked eye, wrote a poem to remind us of the necessity of never limiting God to simply the size of our own understanding, or even a group of doctrines that we may have put together.
Looking at that sky with his naked eyebefore Kepler, before Galileo, before Leeuwenhoekhe said, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name! When I see the heavens, the sun and the moon and the stars! I often think, how strange it is that as man has expanded his ability to understand the universe, he has diminished his ability to understand the greatness of God! I'd like tonight to suggest what it might mean to us to move from David's naked eye to what we now understand about the universe of which we're a part.
We know, for instance, that we are living in a galaxy that is moving like a great, oblong pinwheel through time and space. At the point where we're riding in this great galaxy, on planet Earth, we're moving along at about 136 miles per second, or 490,000 miles an hour. Young people get an idea of this by playing crack-the-whip down at the local skating rink. The guy in the center's turning like this; the man on the outside's hitting the brick wallbang, bang, bangbecause he's moving right along. Well, we're out here moving 490,000 miles an hour. Moving at 490,000 miles an hour in our galaxy, we make one rotation in 200 million years. If we just hang on, we'll be around one full timethe pony will come around againevery 200 million years at 490,000 miles an hour.
Now, our galaxy is a fairly expansive place. If you want to go across it the short way, and you move at the speed of lightwe know the speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second; that's moving right alongyou can cross the narrow expanse of our galaxy in 20,000 years. Twenty thousand light years to cross it. If you want to take the scenic viewremember, "See Rock City it is 100,000 light years. Our galaxy is about five times as long as it is wide; 100,000 light years to go its length.
I don't want you to feel inferior about this, but our sun is a relatively minor starnot mediocre, but minor to a degree. It is about 110 times, roughly, the size of our earth in diameter, or about 860,000 miles in diameter. However, we do have a star in our galaxy1 Antaresthat is large enough that if it were like the globe in pastor's office and were hollow, you could put our sun, our moon, and our planets out to the orbit of Mars inside it.
There are about one billion other galaxies like our own. Now, a billion should be easy for modem Americansjust a little piece of the national debt. If you took a billion dollar bills and sewed them end-to-end on mother's Singer sewing machine, they would go around the equator two-and-a-half times.
Astronomers now tell us the number of stars in the universe exceeds the number of grains of sand on all the beaches of all the seas of the entire earth. Virtually everyone who's heard Carl Sagan, or subscribes to National Geographic, has heard about black holes. The current speculation is that all the matter that produced all the universe that I've painted with this very broad brush tonight, at one time may have been contained in the space of a single pinhead. And folks find that fascinating when they hear Carl Sagan or someone say such a thing.
Let me simply say that we read in the Scriptures that the things that do appear were made of the things that are unseen. That God, somehow, in his creative ability, with a thought threw into existence all that we have today. There's even a place in Scripture that goes so far as to say that the whole thing may be glued together by Jesus Christ himselfthat he holds the universe togetherthe personality of Jesus Christ. Why do we say this tonight? I simply say it to say that David of old looked into the heavens and said, "When I consider the heavens, the sun and the moon and the stars, which you put in place, I say, 'What is man that you are mindful of him?' "
God is great and powerful
When modern man looks into the skies and knows things that David couldn't even imagine, he should begin to understand what David couldn't understand, that our God is great and powerful and mightybeyond the kinds of things that trouble us in the media and the things that pipsqueak people say about that particular God. Why? Because the Scripture begins with a simple phrase: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
"Tell me what God you don't believe in. Maybe I don't believe in him, either.
"We tend, by a secret law of the soul, to move toward our mental image of God.
Suppose we could escape the kinds of things that are said, or the sneers that we hear on the evening news, or the little articles almost daily in the paper that degrade the gospel (or at least people's understanding of the gospel). And for a moment suppose we could believe that there is no limit to the God that we say we worship when we say, "I believe in God. And we could believe that God is indeed larger than his creation"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And that that God has chosen to communicate with little, two-legged things down on some insignificant dust speck just a little distance from a dying spark called the sun. What would it mean if that God who made the heavens and the earth was the God we address when we say, "Our Father, which art in heaven? If he weren't limited to some ideas we may have picked up along the way, what would it mean?
I have people question me every once in a while. They say, "You mean, you believe in God, then?
I say, "Yes, I absolutely do believe in God.
"Do you believe in the Bible?
I say, "Yes, I believe in the Bible. I'm banking my eternal soul on the Bible. Now, I don't believe in God because I believe in the Bible; I believe in the Bible because I believe in God. I believe if God made the heavens and the earth, and God created you and me, and he wanted to communicate with us, he could do it without stuttering. If he's as powerful as I understand him to bea God who can create an Antareshe can surely speak and be understood and speak with veracity and authority.
They say, "You mean, do you believe that God can make a fish big enough to swallow a man? You're an intelligent human being living in the 20th century where we're splitting the atom, and going to the moon, and sending trips around Venus. You think God can make a fish big enough to swallow a man?
Let me tell you, the God who made the sun and the moon and the stars, if he wanted to, could air condition and carpet the fish. You can't put can and God in the same sentence. If you use the word can, you've already disqualified God, because God, by definition, is without limit. The question isn't, "Can God? The question is, "Is there a God? And if there is, then he can. And if he is, he can speak. And if he is, he can visit this planet. And if he is, and you put your faith in him, he can change and transform your life.
How does this relate to me tonight? If the God who made the heavens and the earth is my God, when I feel my problems may be too big, is it possible that I've come up with a problem too big for the God who made the heavens and the earth? I suddenly realize I'm serving the creator God, and there's no problem that I can face that's even going to cause that God to have a committee meeting. They aren't having hastily called committee meetings in heaven. When something new comes up on this earth, they don't get together with a nervous giggle and get all frightened up there and say, "Let's go with Plan B. God is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.
What problem have you been struggling with all week? What problem has so consumed your mind that you can't even concentrate on your family or your work? Is the problem, perhaps, that you're bringing that to a God who's too small, and you need to bring it to a God who's big enough to handle it?
I watch television like you do. We've allvirtually everyone in this room hasgiven money to World Vision. When they put on those World Vision specials, and Art Linkletter walks around, or Charlton Heston walks around, in Africa, and shows me these little children in Ethiopia or Upper Volta or someplace, and I see their little distended tummies, I realize that even the news of all these hundreds of thousands of starving Africans has grown old, and the press is fickle, and we're not talking about it, but it's still happening. When the injustices and difficulties in the world seem beyond control, I realize that God is just and holy, the protector of the weak and the oppressed and the poor. When I am troubled by these things, I turn to the God who made the heavens and the earth, not to somebody's idea of God on this earth, lest I find myself in despair.
I've visited Christ's church in about 55 countries of the world. I've seen things that, in the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, would cross a rabbi's eyes. But I will tell you, they do not cross the eyes of the God who made the heavens and the earth. He is keeping track, and he understands.
Intuitively the Negro spiritual says, "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen/nobody knows but Jesus. That particular theology is real and true, and God is able to reach to the uttermost of man's need. When sin and guilt rule in our lives, we understand that the God of the Scripture is redeemer, revealed perfectly in Jesus Christ.
Some of you have a Phillips Translation on your shelves at homego read Philippians 2 in Phillips; it's wonderful. It says, "Though he was God, he did not cling to his prerogatives as God's equal, but became a man and dwelt among us. "For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The sins that have been confessed and exposed on national television in the last months are totally confounding to a lost world. They shouldn't be confounding to Christians. We know that we've all sinned and come short of the glory of God; we know that there's none righteous, no not one; we know all our righteousness is as filthy rags; we know the wages of sin is death; but we also understand that the gift of God is eternal life though Jesus Christ our Lord. We know that the grace of God is greater than all our sin. Who in this room would be unable to sing, "Oh, to grace how great a debtor/daily I'm constrained to be ?
There's such a lack of understanding of the forgiveness of God in this culture that even Christians seem to want to seek vindictiveness and destruction rather than forgiveness and life. I'm not justifying people's actions; I'm simply saying that without forgiveness and without a Redeemer, where will this world go?
I've been in the Middle East many times; some of you have, too. People ask me, "What do you think about the Middle East? What I think about the Middle East is that when Jesus Christ was rejected as the Son of God, and the Middle East was left largely without him, a problem was created. We have an Israeli nation that lives eye for eye and tooth for tooth. We have Arab nations that live for reprisal and vindictiveness. A missile comes in to Israel; two missiles go back to Lebanon. Back and forth, endless reprisal. Eventually no one will have any eyes or any teeth. Somehow people don't understand "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I'll give you rest. People can forgive. They don't have to live in vendettas that are 400 years old. People's hearts can come clean.
When I feel lonely, deserted, misunderstood, grieving, or sick, I know that the God of Scripture is companion, comforter, and friend. The New Testament calls him paracletethe Holy Spirit, the one who walks alongside, who is with us. You may have been, with me, confounded and confused by Jesus' statement in John 17, where he talks about "better that I go to be with the Father, so that the Holy Spirit could come. I always thought it would be better if Jesus hung around. Why did he have to go so that the Holy Spirit would come? Well, think about it. One five-foot-eight (or -ten) Jewish man living one place at one time in history, replaced by the third person of the Trinity who's every place (at this moment) in the worldwith every Christian, with every needy person, in every hospital bed, in every prison, in every place that a Christian cries out to him.
Pastors know about this. You go over to Central DuPage Hospital, and you visit someone in the cancer ward. Your heart is heavy, and you read some verses, and you pray a prayer, and you try to offer something. When you leave, you feel you've been an empty person, and you feel so helpless, and you say, "O God, I pray it helped them. I pray something happened. You go to your car and drive back, and then sometime in the night, when the nurses are just whispering, the faithful Holy Spirit visits that person in the hospital bed. Something happens like happened to John Wesley there at Aldersgatethey feel their heart "strangely warmed, and the Holy Spirit visits them.
The pastor comes back next day, and the person is radiant and transformed and a new person, and the fear is gone, and he ministers to the pastor. He comes back to church, and he's new. What's happened? The God whom we worship, the God of the Scripture, has done his faithful work that he said he would do. He is the Holy Spirit, and he will be with us no matter where we are and what we're experiencing and what is our grief or pain or misunderstanding.
When we fear for the future, we know that he will consummate the age. See this grand pianomen who work in the church have probably carried that thing up and down from here many times. Probably weighs what? Five hundred pounds, maybe, at the outside. Here's a comforting thought: Multiply that piano by eight, so that it weighs four thousand pounds; we have now the equivalent of 4,000 pounds of TNT in the nuclear arsenaltwo tons!for every man, woman, and child. All the little children in Sumatra have two tons of it. All the little children on the south side of Chicago have two tons of it. Every little child has two tons of TNT. Comforting thought to live in a world where we protect ourselves with such assurances.
George Wald at Harvard was asked about youth. He said, "Youth don't fear the future. Youth feel there's no such thing as the future. What do we know about the future? We know that the world will not end like a pinball machine on tilt. We know that God is Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I always think of 1 Peter 1:3: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you.
God keeps track of every one of us.
"We tend, by a secret law of the soul, to move toward our mental image of God. I commend to you tonight the God of the Scripturethe creator God; the compassionate, caring God; the redeeming God; the companion God; the consummator God, who can handle every human problem. The God who made the heavens and the earth is the same God who was there in Genesis 1, and he's the same God to whom David looked with the naked eye toward the heavens, and he's the God to whom you and I can come every day and say, "O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! When I consider the heavens, the sun and the moon and the stars which you've set in place, I say, 'What is man that thou art mindful of him?'
Isn't that an awe-striking idea, that the God who made the heavens and the earth can keep track of every one of you and of me? Now think of how silly we've become over this. Not a person in this room doubts that Uncle Sam can find you April 15th. And what's he working with? Great adding-machine typewriters. Great, dumb, adding-machine typewriters called computers. We're talking tonight about the mind of God.
We say, "How does the great computer compare with the mind of God? About as favorably as a flatworm. I'm talking about a God who sees this congregation as his creation. Who sees beyond the events of our life to the situations of our life to the motives of our life to the anguish of our life to the need of our life and puts himself underneath us and says, "Come to me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I'll give you rest.
Have any among us been coming to the wrong God? I'd like to tell you that I led our friend on LaSalle Street to Christ that night. The best I was able to achieve with him was to have him go away knowing that his God was not the God of the Scripture. I've prayed many times since that through Bill's preaching and other things he may have come to know Christ as Savior. But I say to us tonight, we who come to church twice on Sunday, let's be sure that our faith is hooked to God, the adequate God, the full God, the whole God, the holy God, the righteous God, the God of Scripture.
Jay Kesler is president emeritus of Taylor University and pastor of Upland Community Church, in Upland, Indiana.